“You are awesome.”
Three words this morning. In an email from a student whom I never taught but is currently at university.
“You are awesome.”
I received an email this week from another student, Laura, my son’s former math tutor, a young woman who gave my son hope which helped my entire family find a little bit of peace during a year of turbulent transition because middle school was not what we expected. Laura wrote me kind words of encouragement, words that showed me I had done something right.
I spent last year walking the crooked paths of question marks which exhausted me.
Am I doing the right thing?
What could I have done better?
I know that I shouldn’t look for outside reassurance, that my value should not be sourced from the outside. I know that I did a good job last year. I know that I worked as hard as I could to work with my students and to teach them and to learn from them. I have my own intrinsic sense of self-confidence.
I also know that self-reflection and self-analysis are qualities of a good teacher. As opposed to rigidly holding on to a lesson plan or unit plan that is failing, questioning oneself and adapting the lesson plans to the needs of the students is a good thing.
But that means questioning. And questioning and constant self-analysis means that the scrutiny never ends.
It takes courage to reach out, without impetus or invitation, and tell someone words of kindness. I know this from the reactions I receive when I randomly give people a compliment. Maybe I should realize that the randomness of my words are the reason why people look at me askance.
Regardless, I have had the honor of former students reaching out, this week, and writing me kind notes, visiting me, giving me a hug.
On Facebook, I watched a video a former student posted about a teacher receiving two kittens from her students. The teacher’s 16 year-old cat had just died and the teacher had shared the story of her cat’s passing with her students, breaking down as she described the moment.
Of their own volition, the next day, the students brought flowers, cupcakes, and balloons. Tied to the balloons were the kittens. First, the students gave their teacher the flowers and she grinned, clapped, laughed with surprise. And then, the kittens were revealed.
The woman curled her hands around one kitten, her face crumpled in sorrowful joy. She gently lifted the kitten to her face, kissed the tiny animal before reaching for the other.
And the students? The flushed joy was everywhere, in the beautiful crescents of their smiles, in the way they watched their teacher swim through conflicting emotions and surrender to gratitude and joy.
I know I have had to written about this before. I feel no regret over repeating myself. But the fact of the matter is teaching can feel like a continual battle between the students and the teacher. I have experienced this when a toxic collection of students seemed to wage war against everything I tried to do. Maybe I was doing the wrong thing? I’m not certain. This was seventeen years ago, weeks before I was to be married.
Maybe, on their own, each student would have been a delight. I know that I ran into two of the students later, and they hugged me. One apologized for how difficult the class had been. I still will accept the responsibility that maybe I was just being too rigid.
Doesn’t matter. That was seventeen years ago. I am in a different part of my life.
What I am trying hard to say and am not doing well at articulating is that as much as I try to have the strength not to find strength in the praise of others, I guess I am weak enough that this does happen. But I will also say that the kindness of others, the compassion of the students is an amazing thing. Because they really are not trying to start a war. Yes, some are. But they are the individuals, the single percentages. Not the whole. Not the entire population.
I am proud of myself when I stumble on a good lesson plan. I was really proud of myself when I finished a year’s worth of research and employed it in my classroom. I am proud of myself when I know that I am teaching my students skills that will be used not only in my classroom or their future classrooms but also in their lives.
But, the fact is, the kindness of students is what keeps pulling me back to the classroom. In forty-eight hours, I will be in my classroom. I will have roughly twenty more minutes of my first block. It will be Monday morning and I know that I will not have dragged myself into the building unless I don’t sleep well the night before. But my lack of sleep will not be due to dread or unhappiness. I might just be barometric pressure, strange dreams, anything that could be beyond my control.
It will not be due to the students. Not when I have students who smile at and greet me when they pass my classroom. Not when last year’s sophomores who are now juniors will pause by my classroom and call out to me.
Not when a student who was despairing a week ago greeted me this week with a high-five and a grin.
So, to Austin. To Laura. To Jack. To Samson. To Savannah. To Lauren. To everyone and to Big Daddy. To my parents who guided me to become a teacher.
To my Lord and Savior.
To my husband and my in-laws and my family.
To my own soul….